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September 16, 2005

News Habits of the Young

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Young people's media-consumption habits continue to shift in the direction of the web. Merrill Brown highlights some findings from a survey he helped conduct of 18-34 year olds and their news habits:

  • "Internet portals emerge in the survey as the most frequently cited daily news source with 44 percent of the study group using portals such as Yahoo at least once a day for news. By this same measurement, local TV comes in second at 37 percent, followed by network or cable TV Web sites, and newspapers, at 19 percent each."

  • "41 percent of young news consumers say that the Internet is the most useful way to learn, compared with 15 percent for second-ranked local TV. And 49 percent say the Internet provides news 'only when I want it' a critical factor for this group versus 15 percent for second-ranked local TV."

  • "Baby boomers read newspapers one-third less than their parents, and the Gen Xers read newspapers another one-third less than the boomers ... From 1972 to 1998, the percentage of people ages 30 to 39 who read a paper every day dropped from 73 to 30 percent."

Brown's conclusion strikes me as a marvel of understatement:

"Clearly, young people don't want to rely on the morning paper on their doorstep or the dinnertime newscast for up-to-date information; in fact, they as well as others want their news on demand, when it works for them."

We've entered a have-it-your-way media universe. Fun! On the other hand: scary days for traditional media businesses.



posted by Michael at September 16, 2005


I get most of my news from the internet also. The linear nature of TV news is so frustrating: sitting through news about job numbers and then some election in Turkey and then Michael Jackson's latest escapades before I can hear about something interesting like the arrests in China just isn't an optimal way to use my time. It reminds me of the old casette days when I would have to wind, wind, wind until I got to the song I want to hear (hurray for digtal format).
And as for the newspaper, by the time I'm reading it over my bagel and Diet Coke the news is already stale (in fact I'd already read it the night before on the internet). Oh yeah and the internet is free and I can read "Get Fuzzy" which the idiots who run the local newspaper dropped even after I sent a strongly worded letter of protest.

Posted by: jason on September 16, 2005 12:44 PM

This is great stuff. Of course we should keep in mind that "traditional media businesses" were once cutting edge.

What I most love about the net is how it re-organizes traditional-based media in new ways. For example, in reading stories about Hurricane Katrina, I might start with Yahoo News, but then browse the online versions of The New York Times, USA Today, the BBC and online local Louisiana coverage. The 'net provided the easiest means of getting comprehensive coverage without going to a library or a news stand.

I just realized that even though I used these online sources of "mainstream media," I rarely bought a physical newspaper. Also, I didn't much watch TV news, but DID watch network specials focusing on aspects of the disaster.

And yet I don't think the internet is quite ready for serious research. There is a lot of information that is still not on the net, and it is often easier to find "popular" but uninformed sources of information. That said, I've really fallen in love with and Wikipedia as reference sources.

Still, it is a brave new online world. The recent announcement by the New York Times that they will soon charge for access to columnists and archives indicates that media companies are struggling to find the most successful and profitable model for an online media company.

Posted by: Alec on September 16, 2005 4:38 PM

A friend of ours wrote a book recently:

TUNED OUT: Why Americans Under 40 Don't Follow the News,
by David T.Z. Mindich
Oxford Univ. Press, 2005

Posted by: winifer skattebol on September 17, 2005 12:25 AM

Big media businesses deserves a good scare...why should they be any different than the rest of us?

The apparent permanence of big media gives people a false impression of the world they live in. The future will not be like the past.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on September 17, 2005 7:15 PM

I find the quote not just understated, but silly. With jobs (sometimes second- or third-) at all hours, and most people's lifestyles not following some Father-Knows-Best romantic '50s ideal, who sits at the table over breakfast and reads the paper anymore anyway?

My Dad still reads the L.A. Times everyday, front to back. But that's because he's retired! People get their news from the Net and talk radio because they sit in cars for hours on end to get to jobs where they sit in front of computers. Amazing...

Posted by: ted mills on September 19, 2005 3:50 PM

Ted -- I think you hit on something key. Changes in the Internet largely are about how news is gathered, organized and distributed in new ways to accomodate changing lifestyles and needs.

There was a time when there were both morning and afternoon newspapers, with occaisional "extras" when there was breaking news (LA papers put out a "Nixon Resigns" extra in 1973). Middle class, and especially blue collar factory workers, would buy the aftenoon edition when they got off work around 4:30 pm, and read it while riding home on the bus, train or subway, or read the home delivery edition when they got home.

I worked for a time for a couple of newspapers, and learned how the Los Angeles Times foresaw that the rise of automobile culture and changes in work hours would soon see the demise of the afternoon paper (the rival Herald Examiner held onto afternoon editions). Neither paper saw the rise of evening TV news (which expanded from 15 minutes to its current local/national block from 4 to 7 pm in most markets), but the Times largely made the right bet.

Now drive time is such an important market that some newspapers (dirty little secret) downplay radio coverage because they see radio, more than TV or the Net, as their main competitor. In the future, cellphones, wireless technology and IPod-like devices may influence how people receive Net based news products.

By the way, in 19th and early 20th century England and America, there were often multiple daily deliveries of the mail in major cities, so that a person could receive a letter in the morning and post an afternoon reply that would be received the same day. Email duplicates and multiplies this capability. Similarly, online news services are allowing newspapers to regain some of the immediacy that they lost to TV, and are also forcing broadcast and cable TV news divisions to compete with their online divisions.

So, it seems to me that in many ways, the future is often like the past, only different.

Posted by: Alec on September 20, 2005 4:14 PM

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